Human Rights Watch (HRW) has substantiated claims that high-level officials have taken part in the humiliation and torture of individuals from Chechnya's gay population. The Russian president has backed a federal probe.
A report published on Friday by the US-founded, international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed that at least two high-ranking officials in Russia's southern region of Chechnya participated in the torture and humiliation of gay men .
From February to April "police rounded up men they suspected of being gay, held them in secret locations for days or even weeks, and tortured, humiliated and starved them, forcing them to hand over information about other men who might be gay," HRW said in its report. "Police beat all detainees viciously and repeatedly electrocuted them."
The report was based on interviews with locals, as well as six former detainees.
HRW said that, while there have been no new arrests reported in recent weeks, several people are still detained in unofficial prisons.
The Chechen men "remain at great risk of being hounded by Chechen authorities or their own relatives as long as they remain in Russia," HRW said.
LGBT activists have reportedly helped as many as 40 gay men flee Chechnya to other regions in Russia, while Lithuania's foreign minister announced last week that his country had provided refuge to two men from Russia's southern region.
Reports of Chechnya's anti-gay purge, initially made by Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta last month, sent shockwaves through the global gay community and prompted international condemnation.
Meanwhile, Chechnya's Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov has dismissed the allegations, while his spokesman, Alvi Karimov, said it was impossible to detain and oppress gay people in the region because they do not exist.
The UN has demanded an investigation.
Global outrage prompts Russian investigation
Days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue of reported torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya, Putin announced that he would back a federal probe into the allegations.
Moscow has promoted Igor Sobol, the chief investigator assigned in Chechnya, to a top position permanently based in the region - an indication that the Russian government may be taking the allegations seriously.
However, this week Novaya Gazeta reported Chechnen law officials, allegedly complicit in the anti-gay purge, have sought to sabotage the federal investigation.
Tanya Lokshina, Human Rights Watch's Russia program director, said the federal investigations into the "abductions, torture, and humiliation of people presumed to be gay in Chechnya should be thorough," adding that the perpetrators should be brought to account.
Putin's decision to back the investigation does at least mark a welcome change in tone concerning discrimination against gay people in Russia. The Russian government has received international condemnation for a 2013 law against the public promotion of homosexuality. Activists and legal experts said the new legislation was vague enough to prosecute someone for even mentioning homosexuality in public.
dm/jm (AP, dpa)